Excerpted from Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1938.
One who lives by justification by grace is willing and ready to accept even insults and injuries without protest, taking them from God’s punishing and gracious hand. It is not a good sign when we can no longer bear to hear this said without immediately retorting that even Paul insisted upon his rights as a Roman citizen, and that Jesus replied to the man who struck him, “Why smitest thou me?” In any case, none of us will really act as Jesus and Paul did if we have not first learned, like them, to keep silent under abuse.
The sin of resentment that flares up so quickly in the fellowship indicates again and again how much false desire for honor, how much unbelief, still smolders in the community. Finally, one extreme thing must be said. To forego self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners.
This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian. It sounds like an exaggeration, like an untruth. Yet even Paul said of himself that he was foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15); he said this specifically at the point where he was speaking of his service as an apostle.
There can be no genuine acknowledgement of sin that does not lead to this extremity. If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible.
Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no apology whatsoever. Therefore my sin is the worst. He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to these depths of humility.
Words of Grace for Strength
How hard is it for us to recognize our own shortcomings and sinfulness, to accept who we are as we are? How much harder to accept that judgment from others, and to remain silent, to avoid striking back or at the very least to try to drag our accuser(s) down to our level?
Yet, isn’t that what our Lord has asked us to do in His name? For how are we to show the love of Christ to a sinfully desperate world if we are not willing to act as He did and accept meekly their hurled insults or possibly worse? Meekness, or strength under control (or under discipline), is only possible in the Christian which Bonhoeffer identifies as having been justified by grace.
That action, done unilaterally by God in His gracious response to our trusting in Christ alone for our salvation, gives us the meekness through His grace to accept that which we would otherwise fight to our dying breath. It gives us the meekness to accept even death in His name as a way to show Christ in our lives, a meekness that is demonstrated by our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world daily.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:8-9).
And as members of His true Church, His remnant Church, we know with total certainty that meekness, strength under control, when under the duress of living in this sinful world, only comes through the grace of our Lord. That blessed assurance is yet another gift He has given us.
“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).
As persecution increases on those called out of the world as the true Church, who make a stand for Christ all around the world, as persecution of the true Church increases in the USA (and it is), we will rely on His Grace to enable us to fulfill that last responsibility we have as the Church, to suffer for His Name.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20).
In meekness, with strength imparted to us through the Holy Spirit and completely under His control, we will endure, even unto death, because He has promised us the Crown of Life!
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Listen for the Trump of God!
Dr. Tuck Whitaker and Andy Coticchio
Rafter Cross Ministries